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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, August 11, 2020

Guests: Alexi McCammond, Donna Edwards, Kurt Andersen


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has picked California Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Russia announced that it has become the first country in the world to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus. Trump attacks Kamala Harris over Kavanaugh hearings in first remarks since she was named Biden's running mate. Trump is focusing on stock market as pandemic rages.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, THE 11TH HOUR HOST: And that is tonight's Last Word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,300 of the Trump administration. Eighty-four days to go until our presidential election, and 57 days to go until the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris which nicely brings us to our lead story tonight, a big enough story to displace the pandemic at the top of this broadcast.

Barring disaster, the Democratic ticket will be Biden/Harris. The 55-year-old California senator will appear with Joe Biden tomorrow in Delaware as close to each other as the CDC allows. The announcement came electronically this afternoon. The secret held while Biden notified the others of his choice, and make no mistake, this is historic. Kamala Harris is the first black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party in our country.

She was Joe Biden's rival during the Democratic primaries, announcing her own presidential campaign back in January of 2019. During his now daily briefing, the president attacked Harris on healthcare, military funding, petroleum, and taxes, and said he was surprised at her selection.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, she was my number one draft pick and we'll see how she works out. She did very, very poorly in the primaries as you know. She was expected to do well. I was a little surprised that he picked her. She was very, very nasty to -- one of the reasons it surprised me, she was very disrespectful to Joe Biden, and it's hard to pick somebody that's that disrespectful.


WILLIAMS: Trump is referring to Harris' stinging remarks, a haymaker delivered to Biden during the very first Democratic debate of the long primary season. This was back in June 2019.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I do not believe you are a racist. It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.


WILLIAMS: So fast forward from that night to just a few weeks ago, we showed this to you on the air. Joe Biden was photographed holding handwritten notes in anticipation of a question about Harris. It had her name at the top along with a set of talking points including the words do not hold grudges. In fact, today's announcements means he chose the candidate who took the biggest swing at him during the campaign.

In announcing her selection, Biden described his former rival as, quote, someone who understands that we are in the battle for the soul of this nation. In his announcement, he added that he was influenced by Kamala Harris' friendship with Joe Biden's late son writing this, quote, I first met Kamala through my son, Beau. They were both attorneys general at the same time. He had enormous respect for her and her work. I thought a lot about that as I made this decision. There is no one's opinion I valued more than Beau's.

And this late today from President Obama on his firmer running mate's choice of a running mate, quote, by choosing Senator Kamala Harris as America's next vice president, he's underscored his own judgment and character. Reality shows us that these attributes are not optional in a president.

Promising all the ambiance of a Zoom meeting, the Democratic convention pandemic edition such as it is, is next week. On the pandemic front, Russia announced today it has the first -- it has become the first country in the world to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus, and that's all we know that they approved it though Putin says his own daughter has received it. After running a fever, he says she now has the antibodies. Global health officials warn the vaccine still needs critical, late-stage clinical trials to determine safety and effectiveness.

Meanwhile, Trump today announced the federal government will buy a hundred million doses of Moderna's experimental coronavirus vaccine which is currently in late stage human trials. That comes as our country sees more than 5.1 million cases now, over 165,000 deaths. Today, both the Big Ten and Pac-12 college football conferences canceled their 2020 season. And Trump is now all about the college football season.


TRUMP: And hopefully, we can watch colleges play football. We want to get football in colleges. These are young, strong people, they'll be able to fight it off, and hopefully, it won't bother them one bit.

Most of them will never get it statistically. But we know we'll see more cases at some point, and we will eventually develop sufficient immunity in addition to everything else that we're doing. So, college football, get out there and play football.


WILLIAMS: So, here for our lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night, frankly, an embarrassment of riches, Peter Baker, chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times, Alexi McCammond, political reporter for Axios, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatric physician, clinical professor with the School of Public Health up at Columbia University, also the director of Columbia's National center for Disaster Preparedness. Good evening and welcome to all of you.

Alexi, I'd like to begin with you. Other than this being the Maya Rudolph full employment act of 2020, what's your additional reporting on what went into this choice?

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, AXIOS POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, Brian, as you just walked through the relationship that Senator Kamala Harris had with Joe Biden's son, Beau, is really something that he took into account in this deliberative process. But the other thing, you know, that you and I have talked about, Brian, and my reporting shows is that, you know, Biden listens to himself at the end of the day. And I think that was one of the more frustrating processes for the political reporters, you know, for those of us chasing this story for the last few weeks.

It seemed like everyone knew everything and nothing at the same time. And that's exactly because Joe Biden makes the decision for Joe Biden at the end of the day. And he was really deliberative throughout this process.

I mean, that is also reflected in the fact that this didn't even leak before the campaign was able to announce it themselves, drawing out another contrast between the way that, you know, President Trump is, kind of shoots from the hip, and there's a lot of leaks coming from his campaign and his inner world. And the way that Joe Biden is showing that he was -- he would govern if elected president which is really keeping his head down, doing the work, keeping his eye on the prize, and keeping a really small circle of folks, but ultimately listening to himself at the end of the day.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, it's already been written, I guess folks that watched Trump's briefing today that this is a tough one for Trump. It boxes him in and that he may not know the best way to run against a candidate like Kamala Harris.

PETER BAKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. The Trump campaign aired an online ad within minutes of the choice because presumably they had them ready for all the major possibilities. But it looked like a cookie cutter version of what they would have said about any of the choices which is that Kamala Harris is going to drag Biden to the left, to the radical left. That was the phrase they used, that Biden isn't really in charge. It will be whoever is the vice president is really in charge. In this case, it's going to be somebody who favors Medicare for All and other liberal wish list items that would turn off middle America. That's the same prescription again I think they would have used with most of the candidates he would have picked.

You know, in the end, what's interesting about this, Brian, is that you would ask anybody a year ago and we might have, in fact, that he brought on this program, who would the Democratic ticket have been in August of 2020, the answer would actually have been Biden and Harris. This was the (INAUDIBLE) a year ago and a lot has happened in between that maybe will go off in different directions. Well, you know, she didn't do that well in the primaries, maybe Elizabeth Warren, maybe Bernie Sanders is going to be the nominee, you know. Maybe somebody like a Karen Bass or a Susan Rice will be the vice presidential nominee.

In the end, it came back to the choice that it seemed obvious a year ago. And that tells us a lot because what Joe Biden is offering is predictable, is conventional wisdom, is that the choice that doesn't surprise because, in fact, it had been tested these last few weeks and really over the last year. And that's the contrast with Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS: Hey Doc, often I have to bring you right to the intersection of politics and medicine, and this is one of those nights. You have reason to believe that Kamala Harris in your line of work could want to take a leadership role in this pandemic?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, MSNBC PUBLIC HEALTH ANALYST: Yes. Well, I think the Trump ticket is going to be in for a big surprise because Kamala Harris has extremely strong, powerful evidence-based opinions about what needs to be done about the COVID pandemic. And she's been one of the most critical people of all about the incompetence and dishonesty and lack of direction and leadership coming from the White House. So they're in for a big surprise if she's going to -- if they think she's going to be a pushover on any of this. And knowing that she's been extremely active already in promoting things like big relief packages for people facing eviction, making sure that we end the disparities on the COVID pandemic that are out there and many other things.

But I was speaking to one of her senior staffers today several times and -- who reminded me that Kamala Harris was raised by a scientist, by a cancer researcher, and Kamala Harris in every level of government where she served, in local, state and now federal politics, has been a major supporter of public health. She understands what communities need. And I think she's going to be a formidable partner with Joe Biden to really reverse this horrible course we're on now in trying to manage this terrible outbreak.


WILLIAMS: Alexi, let's take the other side of this. There, of course, cannot be any unforced errors as of tomorrow when we see the ticket together. This changes everything. What are the hurdles? What are the challenges as you and others see them?

MCCAMMOND: Well, the challenges, of course, for the Democratic ticket, Biden and Harris, is running a campaign against someone like Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And we've seen the way that President Trump has so far unsuccessfully tried to brand Biden. But we see even today that he's champing at the bit to get out of the gate to try to brand Senator Harris. And really, again, as we were talking about earlier say that she is the reason that Biden is being dragged to the left.

There are a lot of nasty comments that are going to come from the right about Senator Harris based on gender, based on race, ethnicity that, you know, are things that people aren't going to tolerate anymore. That's the really fascinating thing, Brian. While we're thinking through the potential challenges which, of course, is running against someone like President Trump and the Republican Party that exists beneath him, this coronavirus pandemic is still happening. People are still losing their jobs, struggling to make ends meet.

So, there's little appetite for partisan politics and that's President Trump's bread and butter. That's what he defaults to. Fear and sowing fear in the American people and dragging his opponents through the mud. And those two things are not tolerated by the American people right now. So, while those traditional challenges exists for the Democratic ticket, I don't know how much they will be insurmountable challenges for them in this type of a political climate.

WILLIAMS: Peter, indeed, Kamala Harris brings a certain skill set. I'll mix my metaphors. As a former prosecutor, she throws fastballs and she draws blood. A skill set that will be called upon, no doubt, in the rough and tumble campaign. I want to play for you and our audience one of her encounters. This was a live televised hearing in 2019 with the Attorney General Bill Barr.


HARRIS: Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?


HARRIS: Yes or no?

BARR: Could you repeat that question?

HARRIS: I will repeat it.

BARR: Yes.

HARRIS: Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no, please, sir?

BARR: The president or anybody else?

HARRIS: It seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us?


WILLIAMS: Peter, it was surmised in the moment that was the face of a man not used to having his authority questioned. How does a campaign put that specific skill set to work, do you think?

BAKER: Well, I think everybody is already talking about what the match-up will be like with Mike Pence when the two of them debate later this fall. She does approach politics through the sort of -- any sort of the vehicle of a prosecution in effect, right? That's what she was doing there with Bill Barr. She was grilling him, questioning him very much like a prosecutor would, yes or no, please. You should remember this. Not letting him off the hook.

You know, to see her going up against Mike Pence is going to be a fascinating, you know, moment, fascinating evening. I think in general, she doesn't shy away from playing the sort of pit bull role that is traditional for the running mate to play. You know, that we -- that traditionally, presidential candidates pick as their running mate somebody who can go after the other side in an even more aggressive way than perhaps the top of the ticket might want to do it. And she certainly got that skill set. She's demonstrated that over the last year and two in particular. So I think that that's -- you know, she fits that mold of a vice presidential running mate. I think that people again are looking forward to that match-up with Mike Pence and see how that plays out.

WILLIAMS: And Doctor, you get to that cleanup tonight. What am I missing about this story of the Russian vaccine named after Sputnik, their famous satellite? Lot of Americans woke up to the news that Putin was talking it up, I've already given it to one of my daughters. What are we missing other than the fact that they may be missing at least one stage or two of vaccine research?

REDLENER: Well, it's incredibly anti-science and it's incredibly dangerous. And I can think of two world leaders who are pushing vaccine without regard to safety and efficacy, and those would be Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The only two leaders I can think of in the entire world, Brian, who have the audacity to suggest that we start giving people vaccine before it's actually ready. And I think there's something weird about that particular connection, but it's very unfortunate for the Russian people that Vladimir Putin is taking on the scientific role of condoning something so inherently unsafe, Brian.

WILLIAMS: As I said about our big three tonight, an embarrassment of riches. We are much obliged. Peter Baker, Alexi McCammond, Dr. Irwin Redlener. Thanks to all our guests.

Coming up for us after our first break, being called nasty by the president puts Senator Harris in something of an elite club, rarefied air, if you would. Being called radically left by the Trump campaign was to be expected. Tonight, we'll ask James Carville and former Congresswoman Donna Edwards if that's the best they've got against this formidable woman from California.

Then later, also Kurt Andersen takes on the question, where have we been all these years, all of us, while a country took a turn to the south. The 11th Hour just getting started on this consequential Tuesday night.



HARRIS: When we have children in cages crying for their mothers and fathers, don't you dare call that border security. That's a human rights abuse. And that's not our America!


WILLIAMS: Senator Kamala Harris back in January 2019 on a sparkling day in Oakland, California as she kicked off her presidential campaign. The New York Times points out tonight, quote, after her own presidential bid disintegrated last year, many Democrats regarded Ms. Harris as all but certain to try for another run for the White House in the future. By choosing her as his political partner, Mr. Biden, if he wins, may well be anointing her as the de facto leader of the party in four or eight years.

Lots to talk about. Big day. And back with us tonight, two returning guests. Donna Edwards, former Democratic member of Congress from the great state of Maryland, these days a Washington Post columnist. And the sometimes raging but always entertaining Cajun, James Carville, he's a veteran Democratic strategist who rose to national fame with the Clinton presidential effort. These days, co-host of the 2020 Politics War Room podcast. Good evening and welcome to you, both.

Congresswoman, if I recall correctly, one of your op-eds in the Times said that Biden could not make a bad choice given the list you knew to exist. The only danger area is choosing someone who outshines, overshadows you. The most difficult task, she cannot overshadow the boss or get beyond him.

Does this pick, is it endangered by that rule? Does it go near that? Is it in the safe zone? She is a high wattage candidate.

DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, I think one of the things that you see about this choice by the vice president, first of all, it demonstrates his confidence in who he is and the kind of campaign that he's running, the kind of presidency he wants to have. But it demonstrates about her that she can be a good partner and that she will be a good partner for him, not just on the campaign trail but when it comes to the important work of governance come January 2021. And so I think it's a very exciting choice. And I think that while the vice president couldn't have gone wrong, he got it very right today.

WILLIAMS: James Carville, in your view, did Joe Biden pick the correct candidate? in your view, what has Donald Trump got that he wouldn't have shown today? At one point he said Kamala Harris is anti-petroleum products.

JAMES CARVILLE, "2020 POLITICS WAR ROOM" PODCAST CO-HOST: Brian, you know, look, he said Biden wants to cancel the bible, cancel God. He's guilty of treason and we'll all be speaking Chinese. Who knows what he'll come up with tomorrow. I think Congresswoman Edwards made a good point. This was a confident choice. This demonstrated Joe Biden's confidence in himself, it was a big choice. And, you know, Senator Harris has got -- levels at three levels of government. She has experience. She was a prosecutor for San Francisco, she was a statewide attorney general. She is a United States senator.

This is not just a unique choice but this is a really qualified person to be -- to be picked to be vice president, maybe the future leader of the Democratic Party. We can all speculate on that. So, I think this demonstrated a real bigness on the part of Joe Biden. I mean, I think we saw a mature person, and it's a very good contrast with the immaturity and the smallness we see on the other side.

WILLIAMS: So, James, if I snuck you into Wilmington overnight and you had time to sit with the new ticket tomorrow, knowing that the unforced errors are not a good thing for a campaign at this stage, a week out from their convention, what would your advice be to them as a duo, as a new couple in the public eye?

CARVILLE: Honestly, to be -- of course, there will be unforced errors. Of course, people are going to say things that don't come out the right way. But the main thing is, I would urge both of them don't be -- be aggressive. And this was an aggressive pick today. And be confident and don't let fear grip you.

I think we're seeing that. That's why this was so impressive. We all had this sense of Biden and we're trying to put that he was in the banker, he's in his basement (INAUDIBLE). This just told the world, hey, I'm a confident, mature person. I'm ready to lead this country. I'm picking confident people who have big portfolios to be part of my administration.

This is a historically, really significant pick. This is like Kennedy picking Lyndon Johnson or Reagan picking George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton picking Al Gore. This is like, hey, we're going big here. Even President Obama picking Biden who was much more experienced. That's what you have to do in this situation, and he's got a governing partner here and he's going to need that.

And so , I'm not so worried about errors. They're going to come and we'll deal with them as they come and dispose of them as they come also. It's just that -- (INAUDIBLE), that's just the nature of politics.

WILLIAMS: Congresswoman, I keep noticing you're smiling. On a personal level, as a woman of the Democratic Party who was elected to Congress, how did you feel when you heard today's news?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, I had certainly told myself it didn't matter who the choice was going to be, and I partially believed that because I think there were so many talented women, but when this was announced today, I actually felt elated. I felt like, you know, there was a hurdle that the Democratic Party had gotten over with this choice. Because black women are such the -- we've heard it over and over today, the backbone of the Democratic Party, the strongest voters of the Democratic Party. And I think that this choice of Kamala Harris showed that strength. And I think people are going to be excited to see her out there.

And she speaks to so many different demographics of American voters, whether it's, you know, understanding the immigrant experience as a black woman, speaking to the youth of our party. I mean, there are so many ways that Kamala Harris is going to benefit the ticket. And I see that Biden/Harris combination as a real winning combination. People are going to look at that and they are going to see the future as a contrast to the incompetence and the darkness of the Trump/Pence ticket.

And so I'm looking forward to seeing them out on the trail together, such as it will be in the coronavirus era. But Kamala Harris, I think it was a brilliant choice today to make sure that we speak to the future of the Democratic Party.

WILLIAMS: Indeed. The former U.S. attorney in the SDNY Preet Bharara tweeted tonight that his own mother could not wait to vote for a ticket with an Indian-American on it. So to your point about all the various constituencies -- we have to squeeze a break in. Our guests have agreed to stay with us.

Coming up, a look at one of the videos Mike Pence may be binge watching over this weekend. And while he's at it, next weekend, when we come back.



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Did you watch Dr. Ford's testimony?


HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you.

KAVANAUGH: I planned to, I planned to but I did not. I was preparing mine.


WILLIAMS: Kamala Harris, the former prosecutor, has drawn blood on live televised hearings, as we established. Today the president said Harris was, quote, extraordinarily nasty to now Justice Kavanaugh during the hearing and for good measure, he added this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The horrible way she, again, treated Justice Kavanaugh. That was a horrible event. I thought it was terrible for her. I thought it was terrible for our nation. I thought she was the meanest, the most horrible, the most disrespectful of anybody in the U.S. Senate.


WILLIAMS: Still with us, former Congresswoman Donna Edwards and James Carville. And congresswoman, I'm going to read this to you from Susan Glasser at The New Yorker. Even less surprising than Joe Biden picking Kamala Harris is the fact that Donald Trump is already attacking her as nasty. But I still can't get over having a president of the United States who insults rivals like a fourth grade bully.

I have to say this, Donna, give Trump this much. If you hear the word "nasty," it's clarifying at least you know he's not talking about a guy.

EDWARDS: Well, that's for sure. I mean he reserves that kind of criticism, as he always does, for strong women, for women who know their mind. This president cannot tolerate a strong woman. And it reminded me that I'm going to have to again pull out my nasty woman buttons and my nasty woman T-shirt and my nasty woman hat because this president will only have one line of attack, especially when he hasn't been able to demonstrate competence on the things for which he should be president.

WILLIAMS: James Carville, I have one for you. This is from our mutual friend, Susan Page.

CARVILLE: All right. Sure.

WILLIAMS: Quote, there's been speculation about President Trump replacing Mike Pence with Nikki Haley, which would give the GOP ticket a woman, a daughter of immigrants and an Asian-American. Does Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket make that more likely? James, your take. Does Pence survive to election day?

CARVILLE: There's been speculation about Nikki Haley for a year now. And, you know, go back and he called every democratic woman nasty. He just uses that word. It doesn't matter. Again, there's significant deterioration here.

But it doesn't matter. This country is looking for change. And he can change vice presidents. It doesn't matter. The country has decided that it wants to change the direction. I think that his mature, big pick of Senator Harris demonstrates how willing Joe Biden is to embrace change. And that's what the country wants. They can try anything but it is not going to work.

And Susan Page is a dear old friend, a very, very experienced reporter who covered us in 1992. It might happen. Anything -- I wouldn't be surprised at anything he did. That's the truth. I would only be surprised if he acted with a shred of human decency. Then I would be shocked. Other than that, nothing but surprise me.

WILIAMS: The unsettling final words for tonight from our friend James Carville, joined by our friend, Donna Edwards. Thank you both for coming on. Again, a consequential night as Tuesdays go.

Coming up for us, our next guest had what he called an intense jolt of anticipatory delight, imagining a Harris/Pence debate. Kurt Anderson standing by to join us to explain why and to talk about his important new book out today called "Evil Geniuses." It's about all of us, by the way. We have that next.



TRUMP: Once this virus is gone you're going to have a stock market like you've never seen before. This is one of the best weeks in the stock market. And our stock market is booming. The stock market went through the roof. The stock market is at almost an all-time high.


WILLIAMS: The President remains almost singularly focused on the stock market, a peculiar disconnect, given that those suffering in this pandemic feel little or no connection to the Dow or the NASDAQ and don't share his celebration when it does well, as they are not.

As our next guest explains in his new book, it's not all together unexpected given the greed that drives our political economy. And to that end, we welcome to the broadcast the author, veteran writer Peabody Award-winning radio host, Kurt Andersen. That book is "Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America, a Recent History."

Kurt, a great pleasure to have you and while I want to sell books, just a quick question on where the early money is on the vice presidential debate in your house.

KURT ANDERSEN, AUTHOR, "EVIL GENIUSES": Oh, well, you read that tweet of mine from two months ago. Actually, it was my wife's idea who said my god, what if -- the thing I'm looking forward to the most is that she's picked and seeing that vice presidential debate. I called it the greatest under card fight in political history, presidential history.

It will be amazing. It will be just extraordinary because unlike Donald Trump, I mean Mike Pence is a conditional politician and will attempt to debate in a conventional way and, I don't know, we could all be surprised as James Carville just said, by anything. But I don't think we're going to be surprised here. I think it's going to be brutal. And she's going to win.

WILLIAMS: I am so looking forward to reading your book, because it's what I think about. And I'll put it to you this way. The photographer, Paul Fusco recently died and I sat down to look through all of his work on the RFK funeral train, and in addition to the content, what knocked me out was if you change the clothing, hairstyles and cars, nothing has changed. Our trains are moving at the same speed, down those same tracks, past the same siding, the same rusty, clunky bridgework and low-hanging wires.

And I often say it's as if we won World War II, went to the moon, reclined and had a cigarette. When did stasis become OK in our country? And when did we become a society by and for the wealthy?

ANDERSEN: Well, first, what happened -- what happened simultaneously was our plunge into nostalgia that happened after the late '60s in some ways understandably. It was crazy, right, late '60s? So there was this -- let's look back. It was the good old days. But that was weaponized that nostalgia and used politically by the economic right as I talk about in "the evil geniuses."

And these got together in the early 70's a decade before Ronald Reagan was elected they said let's go back to the old days economically, back before there was a big government, back before the new deal frankly. That's when it happened. It happened simultaneously, this kind of plunge into nostalgia toward stasis, toward a kind of cultural stasis, at the same time that the norms and the laws and the practices and the regulations, hundreds of them, were changed. And we had this paradigm shift from the new deal consensus to what I call in this book the raw deal that was sort of imposed upon us by a thousand cuts.

WILLIAMS: I'm going to read a quote from your book that is designed to, and should, get everybody's attention. If we fail to reform our government and economy along sensible democratic lines, we might well experience a large-scale populist spasm involving pitchforks and nooses. Just sounds uncomfortable. America could be the first large modern society to go from fully developed to failing.

I'm guessing we want to avoid that. I'm also guessing you found a through line to the election of Donald Trump and perhaps to uncontrolled pandemic loose in what we like to call the wealthiest nation on earth.

ANDERSEN: Right. We've had this terrible economy for 80 percent of Americans for the last 40 years, where median incomes don't rise and only the rich get richer. We know that. It's so much broader than just that. I mean that's the leading metric. That's what we call inequality.

Donald trump, one of his brilliant moments of evil genius when he ran for president last time, he ran as a populist, he run economically to the left of Hillary Clinton, to the left of any Republican ever, slagging Wall Street, stalling the rigged system. His final act -- I went back and looked at it, in the last few days, Bernie Sanders could have delivered it, literally.

That's what he ran on and then boom, he gets elected. It was all a fake. It was all part of the act. And he did the bidding of the economic right, the billionaires, the banks, the rest who have been the bosses of this party for going on 50 years, or longer, but certainly the last 40, 50 years. And his great legislative accomplishment of course is a $2 trillion tax cut, most of which went to the wealthy.

So, if that keeps on, if we do I think pretty radically reform our system as Franklin Roosevelt did to save capitalism from itself, as Teddy Roosevelt began to do, to save capitalism from itself, we're not going to save the free market economy from itself, and the greed is going to send us, as you quoted me saying, to ugly populist spasms. It's already sent us to ugly populist spasms just not yet to that civil disorder and violence, which I think we could get to. And I think that's the inflection point we're at right now.

WILLIAMS: That gets our attention. I can't wait to read the book, at which point I'm quite certain I'll want to have you back on again. Here is the book. "Evil Geniuses:The Unmaking of America. A Recent History." Its author, Kurt Andersen, has been our guest tonight. Thank you so very much for having us in. We greatly appreciate it.

ANDERSEN: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, a moment, 244 years in the making when we continue.



REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am ecstatic. As you know, I'm the father of three daughters. I have been saying what a plus it would be to have an African-American woman on the ticket. I just believe that we are breaking ground here in such a way that every single person in this country, irrespective of gender or color, will be very proud for making this kind of break through.


WILLIAMS: That was my conversation this afternoon with veteran democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn who says Biden did give him a heads up that was indeed it was going to be Kamala Harris. And that's fair because Jim Clyburn is as personally responsible as anyone alive for the fact that Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee. Clyburn's single handedly delivered South Carolina, which started Joe Biden's big blue run across the country.

Here with us tonight to talk things all history and politics, our friend, Michael Beschloss, biographer, NBC News presidential historian, among his must-read books include his latest "Presidents of War." Michael, like every day, I've been following your social media feed.

On Twitter, you've given us a parade of photographs, many of them with the through line uncomfortable moments between the nominee and their choice for vice president. So in no particular order, Dan Quayle unveiled by 41 looking for the world like he had just been named to the senior year snowball dance planning committee.

John F. Kennedy no doubt really psyched to be arriving in Texas to go shoot deer in hill country. Hubert Humphrey, no doubt psyched that he had no ranch ware in Minnesota, so he was forced to wear one of LBJ's castoffs and a hat. Richard Nixon looking deeply uncomfortable on a fishing outing to show how well he and Ike got along. And, sadly, finally, Tom Eagleton, the otherwise terrific guy and terrific senator from Missouri, whose unpardonable sin in the '70s was seeking treatment for mental illness, what good people hope would not be a disqualification today. He lasted 18 days on the McGovern ticket, replaced by Shriver.

So, Michael, that's the setup. It's all thanks to you. Here's the question. Any discomfort, anything like that about this duo when we see them tomorrow?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, we're going to be looking for personal chemistry, and obviously Joe Biden has assured himself that that's there. But the biggest thing he's assured himself is that Kamala Harris is someone who can be a national candidate and a president if necessary. She's run numerous times in her most populous state of California.

You know, Brian, you know, you and I used to listen to Jimmy Carter years ago talk about America as a beautiful mosaic. And too many times in American history, our leaders have not been a beautiful mosaic. It's been only one type of tile.

You can't have a mosaic unless there are all kinds of tile. So now after this parade of vice presidents who were all men, all protestant with one exception, Joe Biden as a traditional practicing catholic. We now have an African-American woman who is also an Asian-American woman. Looks very different today, and this is going to be an historic day, I think, when we look back.

WILLIAMS: I'm glad you mentioned Jimmy Carter, who not only in Walter Mondale had the most involved vice president of the modern era with an office in the West Wing, but chose regionally. He chose geographically. As a southerner, he chose the veteran senator from Minnesota.

Michael, you and I talk all the time about the old rules of politics changing. It was once taught, pick someone from a state you need and don't have. Well, Joe Biden is not going to be challenged for California.


WILLIAMS: Another rule, though, is VP selections don't gain you votes you didn't already have. Will that hold here, or could that be false?

BESCHLOSS: I think it could be false. I think there could be people who are attracted to this ticket and the message that Kamala Harris brings. You know, she's a walking rebuke to Donald Trump against the racism and misogyny, against the hatred of immigrants. Her parents were immigrants from India and Jamaica. Rule of law. She spent her entire life working in the legal system virtually and a person of deep experience.

And the other thing, if you're looking at traditional balance, she comes from the biggest state in terms of people, California, on the west coast. Along with Biden from one of the smallest states, Delaware, on the east coast and balances this ticket. In terms of age, she's 22 years younger, so hard to think how there could be a more splendid choice.

WILLIAMS: We'll take a quick break here. I have another important question for Michael Beschloss, who has agreed to stay with us, mostly because we threaten not to turn off the camera we have aimed inside his house. More of "The 11th hour" right after this.


WILLIAMS: They say journalism is the first draft of history. We should point out that the drafting of it has changed. More people will see this version of the front page of "The New York Times" than the actual intended paper version, but there you have it. Kamala Harris qualifies for a giant color photograph and a larger than usual headline given the history of the day.

And what better night to have the noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss as our guest. And, Michael, here is what I want to raise with you, and it involves FDR, who ran to solve a depression. And in the process was handed the Second World War. But he buoyed a nation even though he often had bad news with the sentiment of "We can do this. Who's with me?" And that's such an intoxicating thing.

It has rallied high school football teams pinned down on the one yard line. It has rallied platoons in the army pinned down on a foreign hillside. The question is in this pandemic, has Donald Trump missed the leadership opportunity that even comes with facing something awful but asking for the American public to follow your lead and saying, we can do this. Who's with me?

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely no question, Brian. That's what leadership is. FDR in 1933 did not try to sugar coat things. He said, you know, so many Americans are suffering. We're not going to get out of this fast, but we're going to try with bold experimentation.

After Pearl Harbor, he said, we're going to have setbacks, especially in the next year. This is going to be a war that's going to be extremely costly in blood and treasure. But in the end, we will prevail. That's what a leader does, levels with the people, provides a plan to get us out of the mess, and also does it with optimism and a view of the future. And I think we can only hope that future generations look back on this evening and say that, you know, under the leadership of our future, we were looking into the future, and we were smiling.

WILLIAMS: I can only wish you a life of good health because in your business, we are going to rely on our great and very best historians to have the distance in years to look back and sum up just what it is we are living on a day-to-day basis.

BESCHLOSS: Thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: This is why we wanted so badly to have you on, on this consequential Tuesday night.

BESCHLOSS: Great to see you.

WILLIAMS: Our friend Michael Beschloss. Thank you so much. Mr. Beschloss elegantly playing us off the air on this Tuesday. With that comes an end to our broadcast. It, as always, comes with our thanks to you for joining us. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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